The Importance of On-Site Retail Search

Where products rank in search results on retailers’ sites directly impacts a brand’s ecommerce success. If a shopper can’t find your product, that shopper can’t buy your product. Findability is fundamental.

Search is also a driver of the now-famous “flywheel effect” at Amazon and other online retailers: products that place well in search results tend to sell more, and products that sell more tend to place better in search results. Success breeds success, creating a moat for competitors and rewarding those that move early and decisively to win.

Retailers’ websites and apps—particularly Amazon’s—are increasingly the starting point for shoppers’ product searches. A 2016 BloomReach study showed that 55% of online product searches start directly on Amazon, compared to 28% that begin on a traditional search engine like Google or Bing.

When shoppers search directly on retail sites they are typically closer to the purchase decision. Given the stakes, forward-thinking brand manufacturers should aim to optimize their products to rank higher in search results for the most relevant and frequently-searched keywords.

Here we outline the five critical pillars to on-site retail search success for forward-looking brands. Broadly, they fit into three categories: identify, measure, and take steps to optimize.

Choose the most relevant, frequently searched product keywords

The first step to improving your ecommerce SEO is to target the most relevant and frequently searched keywords. Targeting the wrong keywords is like throwing a party with no guests, and taking tactical steps to improve your products’ rankings for the wrong keywords is wasted effort.

In this first and fundamental step of your eCommerce SEO strategy, remember to:

  • Choose a targeted number of terms (fewer than 1,000);
  • Consider the most relevant and frequently searched keywords; and
  • Include branded keywords (e.g. “Kind Bars”) in addition to general category keywords (e.g. “cereal”).

By identifying and focusing on a list of reasonable, relevant, and popular general and branded keywords, you’re well on your way to improving your discoverability in retailers’ search results.

 Measure your Findability on Amazon and other Retail Sites

Once you’ve chosen an actionable number of keywords that are both relevant and frequently searched, you need to measure your performance for each keyword. The right metrics will enable you to assess your current performance, benchmark against your competition, and optimize what’s in your control.

Most shoppers never click past page one. A 2014 Millward Brown Digital study revealed that only 30% of shoppers clicked past the first page of search results.

That means page placement – the page of search results on which your products appear – is a critical driver of traffic, conversions, and sales, and should be a primary performance metric. This applies to all retailers, both spearfishing (like Amazon) and full-basket (like Walmart).

Also, be sure to measure numerical rankings (e.g. product #1, #2, #25) – the actual numerical position of your products in search results. The best performance measure combines both page placement and numerical rankings.

 Optimize your products for retailer search rankings

With keywords chosen and initial results measured, there are three steps to optimizing your organic search rankings for your chosen keywords:

  • Optimize your products’ category listings and textual content to improve your relevance to targeted keywords;
  • Leverage paid search and promotions to boost traffic and sales, both of which are important to search algorithms (more in step five);
  • In the quest for improved organic search results, continue to master the fundamentals of product availability, product content, and ratings & reviews. They will improve your conversions and, ultimately, your search rankings.

Understand the key drivers influencing Amazon’s organic search rankings

Amazon, understandably, wants happy shoppers who come often and buy often (with ever-growing baskets). Which products appear for which search results, and how highly those products rank, is one of their most powerful levers.

For example, conversion rate is an important driver of search results on Amazon. The higher proportion of shoppers converting on your page, the higher you’ll rank in search results (as long as relevance is optimized).

The drivers of conversion rate are virtually everything – price, the Buy Box winner and seller ratings, star ratings, reviews, above the fold content (images, title, feature bullets), and below the fold content (A+ content).

Amazon is always tweaking its algorithm, which underscores the need for Amazon vendors and sellers to continuously monitor and optimize for search.

 Leverage Paid Search on Amazon

Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) is the Amazon tool that allows vendors to advertise their products near and alongside search results, the dominant path to purchase, and on product detail pages. AMS campaigns can:

  • Increase the visibility of products on frequently searched keywords, such as general category terms (e.g. “paper towels”), for which you might not rank highly in organic search results;
  • Direct shoppers to new or strategically important products, or encourage shoppers to enroll in Subscribe & Save;
  • Combat competitors’ targeting of your own branded terms;
  • Improve organic search rankings by increasing traffic and sales (two factors that influence organic search rankings on Amazon).

Winning in the digital channel is about optimizing performance and continually improving.

For brand manufacturers, being present on Amazon and other online retailers is only as good as whether you are easily found and seen by potential shoppers: Findability is fundamental.

Identifying key search terms for your product and category, monitoring where your products appear in search term rankings, and optimizing for search with both organic and paid search strategies are essential to discoverability on a consumer’s digital path to purchase.

Ryan Jepson is Senior Strategy & Insights Analyst, Profitero

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